There are unsurprising partisan divides over President Donald Trump’s push to quickly replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court before Election Day. There’s plenty of finger-pointing about who is to most blame for the country’s increasingly bitter judicial confirmation fights. But there’s also bipartisan agreement that this court fight looks ugly for everyone, and for the United States.
These are some of the takeaways from the second convening of The Inquirer’s Election 2020 Roundtable, which took place over the course of two days last week, before Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Ginsburg.
The roundtable brings together a representative group of 24 voters from across Pennsylvania, a critical swing state, for a series of open virtual conversations about politics, policy, and the presidential election.
Here’s what some of them said. Learn more about the Election 2020 Roundtable here.
A divide on what to do and what it means
Opinion polling shows that a majority of voters think the winner of the Nov. 3 election should get to replace Ginsburg. Our Roundtable appeared more starkly divided.
Republicans who cited an election eight months away in blocking President Barack Obama from filling a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016 are now rushing to confirm Trump’s nominee just weeks before an election. And Democrats who called on Senate Republicans to confirm Obama’s nominee in 2016 are now insisting Republicans must abide by the standard they set in 2016 and wait.
But most of our Roundtable members readily accepted their party’s change in position as reflective of cold political reality.
“The Democrats, if they were in the same boat that the Republicans are in today, they would be doing the same thing," said Lauren Jessop, a 62-year-old Republican in Northampton County. “They have flipped-flopped, and politics being like it is, it’s like chess. If you have the advantage, you’re going to take it.”
Drew Jennings, a 47-year-old Republican from Chester County, echoed the sentiment, faulting Democrats for failing to outmaneuver Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even as he expressed discomfort with the outcome.
“Schumer and Pelosi are not playing the same game," Jennings said, referring to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrats in Congress. "McConnell is interested in one thing: winning. Winning doesn’t mean ‘I want to do anything with the result.’ Winning doesn’t mean ‘I want to govern the country.’ It just means, ‘I want to win.’
“Doesn’t mean it’s the right way to govern, but it’s happening,” Jennings said. “We are essentially running the government by executive order and court enforcement of it. It isn’t because Trump’s a dictator, it’s because Congress is broken.”
Much of the argument from Republicans in favor of replacing Ginsburg before the election echoed GOP leaders in noting that Republicans now control both the Senate and the White House, as well as historical precedent around Supreme Court nominations dating back decades.
Glen Beiler, a Republican in Lancaster County, said the 2016 court fight and this year’s edition are “basically apples and oranges."
“The voters in the country voted for a majority in the Senate and they also voted for the president,” said Beiler, 61. “I just see it as the balance of power and a constitutional duty.”
While few Democrats were surprised by the situation facing their party, many expressed deep disappointment.
“I’m pretty baffled by where we are,” said Vanessa Benton, a 54-year-old Democrat in Philadelphia. “The same people [are involved] and we can present their quotes to them, and they disregard that and move forward."
Melissa Robbins, a 47-year-old Philadelphia Democrat, said: “It’s about power. It’s always been about power. It’s always been about white men dominating, making the rules, changing the rules. It completely delegitimizes our democracy."
And Ani Hatza, a 34-year-old Democrat in Montgomery County, called it “hypocritical” and “frustrating.”
"I’ve never felt less represented by my government,” she said.
Bipartisan unease with the ‘optics’ and what comes next
Roundtable members across the political spectrum lamented how divided the country and its government have become. And many worried what the growing polarization means for the future.
“The biggest thing to me is the optics of taking something that should be a purely apolitical position and centering it around an election deadline,” said Scott Young, a 51-year-old Republican in Bucks County. “It’s the blatant hypocrisy that I can’t with live with.”
Young noted that his son is 18, about to vote for the first time, and is “already jaded.”
Shawn Berhel, a 26-year-old Democrat in Northampton County, blamed the country’s two-party system.
“It tends to divide us a little more. It gets everyone more intensified and frustrated and we feel as though we need to take it out on the other side," he said. “It makes more Americans feel less heard and feel less respected as citizens of this nation.”
David Graham, a 66-year-old Republican from Johnstown, blamed Democrats for their treatment of Brett Kavanaugh during his 2018 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
“What they did to Kavanaugh really ticked off the Republicans and the Republicans are getting retribution,” Graham said.
But Graham also said he didn’t like that Senate Republicans refused to even hold a hearing on Obama’s 2016 nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.
“To block Merrick Garland the way they did was wrong," he said. "If they had the votes to defeat him, they could have defeated him. But that’s not the way they did it, they were dishonest.”
“The federal government is broken,” Graham added.
Jennings, the Chester County Republican, asked: “Is hypocrisy a political norm now? Could be. I don’t like that we’re in this position, I really hate it. Now we’re going tit for tat and tit for tat and tit for tat."
Mary DeBeer, a 66-year-old independent in Armstrong County, was nervous about rushing to confirm a nominee before the election.
“Anything that’s rushed through just makes me think we’re going to get poor quality people in a position that’s there for life,” she said.
“Scalia and Ginsburg used to go to the opera together," DeBeer added, referring to the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. "That type of collegial working together for the good for the country, I don’t know where that’s gone. But that’s a bad place to not have that kind of collegiality.”